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150,000 In Tel Aviv Demand An End To Occupation

Sunday, May 12, 2002


This week had its measure of horrors - Palestinian bombs in Rishon Letsiyon and Beersheba, the Israeli army re-invading Tulkarm and enforcing cruel curfews elsewhere - but the potentially worst scenario seems to have been averted - an Israeli invasion of Gaza. The results of an attack on the Gaza Strip - one of the most densely populated regions in the world, with abysmal poverty and already unbearable living conditions - would have dwarfed the tragedy of Jenin.

What stopped Sharon from this invasion? Commentators in Israel say that details of the action leaked by some generals and politicians gave the terrorists a chance to hide and/or booby trap the path of the army. Or that Sharon didn't want to anger the world again, having squandered some international sympathy by blocking the entrance into Jenin of the UN investigative team. So instead of the attack and world censure, Sharon was granted $200 million more of US taxpayers' hard-earned money.

Peace Activism

The week was also filled with activity from the Israeli peace movement. Members of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held a quiet but powerful conference, bringing together 200 leaders of peace and social justice organizations in Israel for strategy talks about the link between the occupation and poverty here. As Israel pours money into settlements and "security", the Israeli economy is plunged into deep recession, 10% unemployment, and the widest gap between rich and poor than any other developed country. Several actions have already resulted (and others are being planned) under the general theme "money for the poor, not for occupation".

The ranks of the refuseniks - soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation - are growing. To date, over 450 have signed this statement, and hundreds more have joined Yesh Gvul. Some have been jailed (including my daughter's close friend - we're proud of you, Amichai!) and then released. The Israeli media now refrain from giving this phenomenon any publicity, as part of its policy of acting as cheerleaders for the government, rather than reporters of Israeli current events.

The Ta'ayush organization continued its cutting edge solidarity work, planning visits to a military camp deep in the desert where several thousand Palestinians are being held in "administrative detention" - no trial, no due process, no exposure of the evidence - under the accusation of being terrorists. As the invasion of Gaza became imminent, Ta'ayush regrouped and went to Gaza in an effort to thwart that attack. Elsewhere, a brave group of Gush Shalom activists entered Ramalla to defend against attempts to expel Arafat, as rumors to that effect reached the public.

Peace Now

But by far the most encouraging event of the week was Peace Now's rally last night in Tel-Aviv, as some 100,000 Israelis turned out to demand, "Get Out of the Territories Now!" This was the largest rally since the al-Aqsa Intifada began 20 months ago. (In fact, by the end of the rally, Peace Now announced that 150,000 were in attendance.)

The media have already begun to minimize it - saying there were 'only' 60,000 or that many people showed up, but were not enthusiastic. This is not true. Those of us who attended can celebrate what we saw with our own eyes - Rabin Square, that huge plaza in Tel Aviv where Rabin spoke his final public words before being assassinated - was filled to overflowing with people from all corners of Israel who came to shout "Enough!" about where the Sharon-Peres leadership is taking us - deeper into tragedy and further than ever from peace.

One political highlight from last night: Key speakers, including Labor party stalwarts, expressed their revulsion at the presence of the Labor Party in the government, and called for formation of a "peace party" - a social democratic party that would replace Labor in the next election. I believe we will see this emerging in the coming months.

And several emotional highlights (at least for me): Yaffa Yarkoni, the singer roundly condemned by the media and others for criticizing the army's behavior and supporting the refuseniks, received an ovation when she appeared and sang. In another, much different moment, the mother of a soldier killed two months ago declared that not a single settlement is worth one drop of blood of our children. And, last, Yossi Beilin declared, "They are trying to kill Rabin twice. Once we were unable to protect him, right here in this square. But the current attempt to kill him, we will not allow to happen."

Last night's demonstration was critical in terms of affecting a broad swath of public opinion. This effort must be reinforced by actions throughout the world, as well as locally, by Israeli and Palestinian allies of peace. The occupation can - and will - be stopped.

Gila Svirsky

Jerusalem, Israel


Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:

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